2018 was a year of protest. Shabbir Lakha looks at some of the protests that happened in Britain and around the world
Though there were many ups and downs in 2018, one thing we can say for certain is that there were plenty of protests happening all over the world. It was a year that reminded us that as politics continues to polarise and the conventional becomes less incumbent, the streets have the ability to radically shift the political landscape and win victories that were previously thought to be unwinnable.
We stopped Trump
When Donald Trump came to Britain in July on a "working visit", 250,000 people took to the streets of London to reject his racism, misogyny, homophobia, warmongering and his all-round reactionary rhetoric. Every step of his visit was met with protest including at Regents Park, Blenheim Palace, Windsor Castle, Edinburgh and his Turnberry golf course. Protests also took place in cities all over the country from Orkney to the Isle of Wight. It won't be a visit he'll forget, it had an impact on the Special Relationship, and if he tries to come back for a state visit in 2019, we'll be ready for him.
And it wasn't just us
Everywhere Trump has visited from Finland to Australia, he has been met with protest. In November, Trump visited France and received a similar unwelcome despite the rain...
March for our lives
In the United States, there were regular protests throughout the year against Donald Trump's racist policies, including a wave of occupations of ICE offices (the government body responsible for hunting immigrants and deportations). But the standout protest of the year was the March for Our Lives which involved primarily young people, and more specifically school students. Over a million people marched on Washington calling for gun control after a deadly school shooting in Florida.
We fought for education
In March, University lecturers around the UK went on strike after Universities UK planned to make changes to their pension scheme that would result in huge cuts for university staff. The strike developed demands against the marketisation of education and the casualisation of employment. It was an inspiring several weeks of strike action, teach-ins and rallies, student occupations and marches which resulted in a victory for the lecturers and radicalised the rank and file of the UCU.
Teachers were striking in West Virginia too
In February, teachers in West Virginia began an unprecedented state-wide strike that shut down all public schools and for similar reasons to the UCU strike. The strike inspired teachers in Oklahoma and elsewhere as well as communications workers and others to take strike action to demand better pay and conditions.
Precarious workers fought back
On 4 October, workers from McDonald's, TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons went on strike as part of an international Fast Food Shutdown. A lot of these workers are on zero hours contracts, earning poverty wages and forced to work in abhorrent conditions. The coordinated action was a huge success and delivery drivers from Deliveroo and UberEats supported the strike.
The following week, Uber drivers went on a 24 hour strike demanding to be given workers rights and increased pay. Despite winning the right to be treated as employees and not self-employed in court, Uber repeatedly appealed the judgement, and finally in December, the decision was upheld in a huge victory for Uber drivers and precarious workers generally.
We fought for the NHS
At the start of 2018, the NHS was facing the worst crisis in its history, and in June the Tory government responsible for the devastation of the NHS cynically attempted to celebrate its 70 year anniversary. On 3 February and 30 June, the People's Assembly mobilised thousands of people from around the country to call for more funding for the NHS, an end to privatisation and an end to the hostile environment.
We didn't forget about Grenfell
On the 14th of every month since the Grenfell Tower fire, growing numbers of people have marched through Ladbroke Grove in silence in remembrance of the 72 lost souls. On the anniversary of the fire, thousands of people came from around the country for the silent march, and two days later thousands marched through central London to demand justice.
We protested against racism and took on the fascists
In 2018, it was revealed that the government had unlawfully deported up to 10,000 members of the Windrush generation as part of the hostile environment begun by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. The protests in defence of Windrush and against the Tories' racist policies played a big role in forcing Amber Rudd to resign.
We also saw a number of far right mobilisations centred around Tommy Robinson, the fascist thug. The far right on the march is a dangerous development and the antiracist movement mobilised to confront them and halt their incitement of racist hate crimes. In December, antifascists outnumbered Tommy Robinson and UKIP's demonstration.
People protested against racism across Europe
While European governments and the EU have increased xenophobic rhetoric and scapegoated refugees and migrants, more and more Europeans took to the streets this year to protest against racism.
Despite the revelations of the unlawful evictions of the Windrush generation and refugees to countries where their lives would be at risk, in December a court convicted the 15 activists under obscure anti-terror laws for stopping a deportation in 2017. It was an outrageous decision and London came out in solidarity with the Stansted 15.
Glaswegians stopped Serco evictions
The infamous Serco was planning to forcefully evict up to 300 asylum seekers in Glasgow by changing their locks, until hundreds of people in Glasgow mobilised for several days on short notice Their action successfully stopped Serco from carrying out its evictions in August.
Glasgow Women's Strike
In October, 8,000 women council workers in Glasgow began the biggest equal pay strike in the UK, bringing the city to a standstill. Hundreds of male refuse workers refused to cross the picket lines and joined the strike in support.
Gender pay gap
As well as women in Glasgow, women in the BBC (one of the most unequal institutions accoring to recent figures) protested the gender pay gap. In March, hundreds of women working at the BBC staged a protest outside Broadcasting House demanding equal pay.
Women stood up for their reproductive rights
After tireless campaigning and protesting, women in Ireland celebrated when the draconian anti-abortion 8th amendment was repealed in May, marking a huge step forward for women's rights in Ireland.
In Poland, tens of thousands of women marched in Warsaw on what they called Black Friday against a bill put forward by the far right government that would criminalise 90% of currently legal abortions. They had managed to stop this bill in 2016 after a massive strike and protest with over 100,000 women.
In Argentina, abortion is illegal, and when a bill was put forward to legalise it, a million women took to the streets calling on the Senate to support it. In a decisive blow to democracy, the Senate rejected the bill. But the movement has massively grown out of it which will continue to fight for women's reproductive rights.
International Women's Day
All over the world women celebrated, marched and rallied on International Women's Day. In Istanbul, Turkey, tens of thousands of women marched through Istiklal Street.
Women's suffrage anniversary
This year marked 100 years since women in Britain (not all) won the right to vote after the successful campaigning and militant protest of radical Suffragettes. Marking the centenary in June, over a hundred thousand women marched through London, and thousands marched also in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
We protested against bombing Syria
In April, Theresa May decided overnight without any Parliamentary mandate to join Trump and Macron in escalating bombing in Syria. The anti-war movement mobilised nationally and protests took place in dozens of cities and towns all over the country.
We stood with Palestine
This year marked 70 years since the Nakba, Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and the people of Gaza have been indiscriminately shot by snipers every Friday since March for protesting for their right of return. In Britain, the Labour focused their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn around Palestine as a double blow to the left and the Palestine solidarity movement. So there was a lot of reason to protest in solidarity with the people of Palestine, to call for an end to arms sales to Israel and to defend Jeremy Corbyn.
The Great Return March
The Great Return March are the protests that began on 30 March and have been continuing every Friday at the border fence between Gaza and Israel. The death toll from the protests have surpassed 200 and over 18,000 Palestinians have been wounded. Among those shot by the IDF are medics, journalists and children. In June, one of those shot in cold blood was 21-year-old medic Razan Al-Najjar. Her murder caused global outrage, and in Britain over 200 healthcare workers signed an open letter condemning her death. Palestinians have continued to mobilise and resist the brutal conditions they face under Israel's 10 year long siege.
Israeli protests against apartheid
After the Israel Knesset passed its nation state law which explicitly denies the right of self determination or Palestinians, several big demonstrations and sit ins took place in Tel Aviv in protest, giving hope of a possible movement within Israel with the potential to take on the Israeli state.
Armenians ousted their Prime Minister
Dubbed the Velvet Revolution, Armenians took to the streets en masse for several consecutive days after Serzh Sargsyan began his third term as Prime Minister after backing an amendment to the constitution that would allow him to stay in power longer than two terms. As a result of the mass protests, he resigned within 6 days of starting his new term.
Catalonia Independence protests
Throughout the year, there have been big demonstrations in Catalonia against repression from the Spanish state and for freedom for political prisoners.
Scottish Indy Ref 2
In September, tens of thousands of people marched through Edinburgh for independence and against Tory austerity.
One of the most militant, sustained and ongoing protest movements is that of the Yellow Vests in France. The protests come after a three month long rail strike action aganst Macron's planned labour reforms and several protests earlier in the year calling for his resignation. Starting in response to Macron's plans to introduce a regressive fuel tax and drawing in elements from the left and right, the Gilets Jaunes have developed into a mass movement demanding the overthrow of Macron's government and largely purged of far right involvement. The movement was victorious in its initial demands, showing us once again that protest works.
Its success has inspired similar protests in Belgium, the Netherlands, and across Europe, with the yellow vest becoming a symbol of radical opposition to austertiy and neoliberalism. In Britain, the demonstration planned on the 12th of January by the People's Assembly calling for a general election has adopted the Yellow Vests symbol and will hope to bring over some of the radical French spirit to the streets of Britain.
Albania student protests
In response to the government hiking tuition fees, students began walkouts and taking to the streets en masse. The government was forced to reverse the hike, but the protests continue, making wider demands about the marketisation of higher education.
Viktor Orban, Hungary's far-right Prime Minister, has taken his authoritarianism to the next level after passing a "slave law" which allows employers to force their employees to work overtime and delay payment for up to three years, at the same time as increasing government control of the Courts. In response, thousands of people have been taking to the streets of Hungary for a number of demonstrations in December that don't look likely to stop soon. Orban's response, typically, has been to use antisemitic rhetoric and blame George Soros for funding the protests.
Brazil and the fight against fascism
In March, Marielle Franco, a black, gay human rights activist and councilwoman was assassinated which sparked massive protests. As the election grew closer, a huge movement mobilised around the slogan Ele Não (not him), to oppose the openly racist, misogynist and homophobic, far right candidate Bolsonaro. The protests have continued since he has become President.
In December 2018, a journalist set himself on fire in an act of protest similar to that of Mohamed Bouazizi which became the catalyst for the Tunisian revolution in 2011. Teachers, civil servants and ordinary people from impoverished towns and cities have taken to the streets to demand change.
Beginning as a protest against rising food prices - the tripling of bread prices in one town - has spread across the country and brought on a mass revolt against Omar Al Bashir, who has been President since 1993. Since the protests began, over 60 people have been killed by security forces and at least 9 opposition leaders have been arrested, but the protests continue.
Whatever else we take away from 2018, let's take this lesson: that protest works. We have everything to fight for, and if we build on our successes and keep to the streets, we can win.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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- Beirut is back in the streets: a report from the memorial march
- Batley and Spen: hanging by a thread does not vindicate Starmer
- To Biden and the G7 leaders: Palestine is still the issue
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